There have been many reading milestones in my life, works from the masters such as J.R.R.Tolkiens Trilogy, Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn, Ernest Hemmingway’s “Old Man & The Sea, Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” and others. In the past year from more contemporary genre writers such as Stephen King’s “Everything’s Eventual” Lisa Carey’s “Love in the Asylum”, Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” & Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness”.
Also from lesser known under read authors like Lee Garrett’s, “The Awakening,” David Gardiner’s “The Rainbow Man & Other Stories,” Terry Lloyd Vinson’s “Half Past the Witching Hour & Mary E. Rose’s sci-fi thriller “Link Detonator.”
And now the work of Gregory Banks author of “Phoenix Tales,” Stories of Death & Life. For those who haven’t read this author I admit this review only touches the surface, it is a body of work that is nothing short of amazing.
What makes it so is the writer’s ability to craft stories that capture your imagination, touch your heart and soothe your soul in the process. This collection of seventeen stories explores a difficult theme, a theme of death but does so with grace and the skilled competence of a master story teller.
In “Fireflies” the author weaves a haunting tale of a man torn by grief and guilt over the loss of his wife & daughter. Like a firefly that lights up the night then fades into darkness–he struggles to keep his sanity and is on a certain path to suicide until a voice from his past offers a simple solution.
The surreal quality of the narrative in this story lends itself well to the state of mind of the main character. The symbolic use of the firefly playing against the tragic circumstances Mr. Dunn found himself in was nothing short of brilliant as was the resolution of love and hope offered the reader at the end of the story.
In “The Soul Man,” the shortest piece in this collection but no less powerful than the others, Mr. Banks once again delivers a poignant tale. It is a story about child abuse as seen through The Soul Man’s eyes whose mission it is to save children. It is also a stinging moral indictment of a society that too often ignores the cries of innocents. The ending is bittersweet but the message is loud and clear.
In “Heartbeats” justice & retribution get the last laugh on an unrepentant serial killer, a death row inmate named Bobby Hardy. This killer of children is about to get a reprieve from his sentence, due to some legal technical fiasco. But the hearts of child victims beat loudly in the corridors of hell as Bobby soon finds out.
The dialogue between the priest and the guard was cleverly employed to reflect their theological and philosophical differences. I haven’t seen dialogue used this effectively in a long time. As for the children and the condemned man the reader is left to decide if the end justified the means. For me in this case it did.
“A Time for Rest” is a gripping bone chilling tale of a mentally challenged woman, caring for her already dead child. She is also waiting the return of her husband who has become the victim of a nuclear blast that has wiped out the city of Lincoln, Nebraska. Alone with her thoughts and unknowingly dying from radiation poisoning, she makes an inevitable decision. The narrative consists of the woman’s last thoughts. The writers voice in this story has a commanding power, a jaw dropping account of a world gone mad.
In “An Old Friend” another of the shorter pieces in the collection, the author offers a beautiful heart- rending account of two children Lindsey and Dani who are best friends, with the setting for the story taking place at a hospital where Dani is dying from old age. Dani’s illness is the result of a rare genetic disorder, not mentioned in the story but readers soon become aware how & why the story is so appropriately titled. The storyline shines as a connection is made between the innocence of childhood & how it can sometimes even overshadow the finality of death.
The five stories summarized in this review as previously stated only begin to touch the surface of this remarkable piece of work. In many collections I’ve read over the years authors have attempted to place their strongest stories first or in some cases last. I think with this collection Mr. Banks would be hard pressed to place his stories in any particular order or rank. Each story while different from the others maintain a consistent standard of excellence throughout.
Phoenix Tales will connect with readers on many levels, each story in this collection shares one thing in common, they are all exquisitely written. You can take it or leave but one thing for sure you will never forget it… because Gregory Bernard Banks in my opinion will someday be included in the ranks of the literary greats. “Phoenix Tales” Stories of Death & Life will hold a prominent place on my bookshelf for years to come! I recommend this book without reservation.
Robert Anthony Montesino
Speculative Fiction Centre
Author of the “Mind Monsters Collection”